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Wind-Fueled Wildfires Push California Governor To Declare State Of Emergency

Oct 27, 2019
Originally published on October 27, 2019 11:15 pm

Updated at 11 p.m. ET

California's governor declared a statewide emergency on Sunday to free up state aid as extreme winds continued to fan wildfires, prompting mandatory evacuations of nearly 200,000 residents.

The raging fires have engulfed thousands of acres in both Northern and Southern California. And as firefighters race to control the blazes, those who have not been forced to evacuate are dealing with other effects from the flames — including rolling blackouts and poor air quality.

"We are deploying every resource available, and are coordinating with numerous agencies as we continue to respond to these fires," Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

Some 180,000 people are being asked to leave their homes in Northern California as the Kincade Fire threatens the city of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County's largest city. "This is the largest evacuation that any of us at the Sheriff's Office can remember. Take care of each other," the office tweeted.

The National Weather Service recorded a wind gust in Sonoma County at 93 mph early Sunday.

At 3:18 a.m., the city of Healdsburg alerted residents, "Winds have kicked up and the Kincade Fire is approaching. ... If you are still in town, LEAVE NOW."

The Kincade Fire is just 5% contained after three days and has burned about 54,000 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Smoke from the fires is affecting the entire Bay Area, though in most of the region, air quality was not expected to exceed the "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" range.

PG&E, the state's bankrupt electric utility, said it would be cutting power to 940,000 homes and businesses in 38 counties. That means an estimated 2.35 million people are without power, according to The Associated Press. The utility company said it was notifying customers 48 hours and 24 hours in advance and then again just before cutting power — but warned that other customers could lose power without notice because of damage to PG&E equipment.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of the Kincade Fire, but PG&E said one of its transmission towers had been damaged shortly before the fire erupted in the same area.

Firefighters hose down a burning house during the Tick Fire in Agua Dulce, near Santa Clarita, Calif., on Friday.
Mark Ralston / AFP via Getty Images

By Sunday night, the Tick Fire was 70% contained after burning 4,600 acres. It had destroyed or damaged about 50 structures in the two days since it had started.

Almost 1,000 firefighters were at work in the region, building additional containment lines and looking for burned areas in danger of rekindling. They were also preparing for more Santa Ana winds expected on Sunday evening and Monday morning. Critical fire conditions are possible on Wednesday and Thursday, as gusts could reach 50 to 70 miles per hour and humidity is low.

"The next 72 hours will be challenging," California Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference Saturday, referring to both the power outages and the fires. "I could sugarcoat it, but I will not."

Expecting winds to strengthen again on Tuesday, PG&E said on Sunday night that it may conduct yet another round of shutoffs that would begin on Tuesday and could affect some 32 counties throughout Northern California.

Some customers currently without power could remain in the dark through the next potential shutoff, PG&E also warned, meaning residents could possibly go five days without power since the Oct. 26 outages began.

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